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New species of dinosaur discovered in Alberta

A new species of dinosaur has been identified by scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum and it has been named to honour Canada’s renowned palaeontologists Dr. Philip J. Currie.

Scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Philip J Currie Dinosaur Museum have identified and named a new species of dinosaur in honour of renowned Canadian palaeontologist Dr. Philip J. Currie.

The new species, called Albertavenator curriei, meaning “Currie’s Alberta hunter” lived about 71 million years ago in what is now  Red Deer River Valley.

When the fossilized remains were discovered, the scientists believed that they belonged to a Troodon, a species that lived in Alberta some 76 million dinosaurs. The Troodon, just like the Albertavenator, walked on two legs, was covered with feathers and was about the same size as an average human.

But when the palaeontologists compared the bones forming the top o the head, they observed that the new fossilized bones had a distinctively shorter and more robust skull than Troodon, its famously brainy relative.

“The delicate bones of these small feathered dinosaurs are very rare. We were lucky to have a critical piece of the skull that allowed us to distinguish Albertaventaor as a new species.” said Dr. David Evans, Temerty Chair and Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum, and leader of the project. “We hope to find a more complete skeleton of Albertavenator in the future, as this would tell us so much more about this fascinating animal.”

Because the two species are so similar, identifying them from fragmentary remains is a challenge. Complicating matters of this new find are the hundreds of isolated teeth that have been found in Alberta and previously attributed to Troodon. Teeth from a jaw that likely pertains to Albertavenator appears very similar to the teeth of Troodon, making them unusable for distinguishing between the two species.

“This discovery really highlights the importance of finding and examining skeletal material from these rare dinosaurs,” concluded Derek Larson, co-author on the study and Assistant Curator of the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum.”

The same fragmentary fossils record can be blamed for the fact that there is little evidence of the diversity of small dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous of North America.

“It was only through our detailed anatomical and statistical comparisons of the skull bones that we were able to distinguish between Albertavenator and Troodon,” said Thomas Cullen, a Ph.D. student of Evans at the University of Toronto and co-author of the study.

The bones of Albertavenator were found in the badlands surrounding the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which Dr. Currie played a key role in establishing in the early 1980s. And although Currie has several dinosaurs named after him, this is the first one from Alberta, the region where he has made his biggest impact.

Sylvia Jacob